Falcons say 49ers' Kaepernick poses new challenge
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Michael Turner's trademark high-pitched laugh filled the Falcons' locker room.
Asked about San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Turner grinned Thursday and said “I'm glad I'm not on defense.”
Turner, the big running back, and the Falcons' offense want to hold the ball and limit Kaepernick's time on the field in Sunday's NFC championship game.
The Falcons have seen enough in Kaepernick's eight starts to respect the versatile quarterback with the long stride and strong right arm.
Kaepernick comes to Atlanta after running for 181 yards — an NFL record for a quarterback — with two touchdowns in last week's win over Green Bay. Kaepernick also threw for 263 yards with two touchdowns. He became only the third quarterback, after Otto Graham and Jay Cutler, to run and throw for at least two touchdowns in a postseason game.
It's little wonder the Falcons are impressed, even after facing such other dual-threat quarterbacks as Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson this season.
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Kaepernick is unique.
“I think he's just a different guy altogether,” Weatherspoon said. “He's a taller guy, obviously. He broke the record last week, so that makes him special and different. I think he has a lot more speed. Russell is more of a quick guy. Colin is a faster guy.”
Wilson and Griffin, who missed most of the second half of the Falcons' 24-17 victory over the Redskins on Oct. 7, are scramblers. Kaepernick looks more like a 200-meter sprinter with his unusually long stride.
“That's the thing,” Weatherspoon said. “You can tell he can run. Speed won't be a surprise to us. We've watched the tape. We'll be ready to go.”
The 49ers don't have to be told they'll bring an unusually gifted quarterback to the Georgia Dome. In only half of a season, Kaepernick has given the San Francisco offense a facelift.
“He's an incredible athlete,” 49ers running back LaMichael James said. “He's looking to throw the ball more than run the ball. But once he takes off, he's faster than a lot of running backs and linebackers.”
Kaepernick has avoided the big hits that have made it difficult for such other running quarterbacks as Griffin and Michael Vick to avoid injuries.
He said his strategy is “Run where they're not.”
“You want to run away from where the defensive players are,” Kaepernick said. “When they get close, get down.”
Falcons coach Mike Smith said he is preparing for the 49ers' “traditional offense that we're used to seeing” as well as the pistol formation with read-option plays that Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada.
Wilson found open room when he took off on long runs after first looking to pass. Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said Kaepernick shows more determination to run.
“With Kaepernick, I think once he tucks the ball he's looking to run,” DeCoud said. “He's taking off to run where Russell, he had his head up looking downfield and wasn't really looking to cross the line of scrimmage. He was just trying to buy time for his guys to get open.”
Falcons linebacker Mike Peterson said the one obstacle Kaepernick can't dodge with his speed is inexperience. Sunday's game will be Kaepernick's first playoff game on the road.
“You've got to get in his mind and change the looks up on him,” Peterson said. “He's a great quarterback, doing a lot of good things for his team, but the common denominator is that he's still a young quarterback.
“He can't run from that.”